Category: Water Security Analysis

Egypt and Climate Security

Since 2008, when massive food riots took place, followed by the “Arab spring revolution” in 2011, Egypt has become a land of political, religious and social conflicts (Krista Mahr, “Bread is life: food and protest in Egypt“, Time Magazine, January 31, 2011; Georges Corm, Le Proche-Orient éclaté, 2012), some of them between armed militant and religious factions on the one hand, the police, the military and the secret services, on the other. Meanwhile the civil society strongly emerges.

Beyond spectacular events, the causes of these domestic political and religious conflicts are rooted, among other factors, into international and climate change dynamics.


In effect, Egypt’s society and politics are deeply affected by the entanglement of economic, political, environmental and climate change trends (Werrell and Femia, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, 2013). The current political, religious and security tensions reveal what might be the greatest challenge Egypt, as a country and as a civilization, has ever had to face: the emergence of climate change and the way it could endanger the very fabric of Egyptian society.

Today, Egypt, as all countries and as all the living beings on this planet, is entering a new era, defined by the strengthening of climate change dynamics and their deeply transformative consequences on its national and international security.

The new plagues of Egypt?

The current political life of Egypt seems dominated not by climate change, but by the complex interactions between the military, an emerging civil society (Nicola Brooks, “Egyptians form grassroots movements to tackle urban issues“, Al Arabiya news, 13 April 2014), and religious militants movements and Islamist terrorists (Corm, ibid). In fact, this tense situation is deeply rooted in the dangerous combination of the fragile social, economic, infrastructural realities and the national and international effects of climate change.

The extreme weather events that affected the international cereals market in 2010 and 2011 are a good example of this new global threat, because Egypt is the EGypTarticleLargefirst importer of wheat in the world and suffered economically and politically of the ensuing food rising prices (Valantin, “Sustainability and security: the future of Egypt?” 2014). This combination has powerful political effects, as it puts the poorest people on the verge of hunger, thus feeds political and religious dynamics of radicalization and violence (Klare, The Coming Global Explosion, 2013).

Another climate related emerging threat lies in the way geography determines the repartition of 80% of Nile_River_and_delta_from_orbitthe population, which protects itself from the desert by living in Cairo and in the narrow Nile Delta. The littoral of the Delta is almost at the level of the sea, and only 240 km long. This geo-social reality could become a major trap in the years to come, according to the World Bank and the IPCC, because of the expected rise of the Mediterranean Sea of at least 30 centimetres during the next eighty years (World Bank, The impact of sea level rise on developing countries: A comparative analysis, policy research paper 4136, 2007; IPCC fifth assessment, Climate change, impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, 2014).

This risk of submersion is reinforced by the way the ground of the Nile Delta is literally sinking, the river not bringing enough sediment any more, as it is blocked 700 kilometers upstream by the giant Aswan dam, built in 1973.

The rising sea and the sinking ground are thus transforming the Nile Delta into a “topographic danger zone” (Hélène Lavoix, 2014). For more than forty years, the Delta has known a high demographic growth and urban densification, while remaining the main agricultural region of the country. According to the World Bank (ibid), if the sea rises of one meter between today and 2100, more than 10% of the population, mainly in the Delta, would be impacted, and it would hit 12.5% of the agricultural production, knowing that Egypt must already import half of its food.

In other terms, 8 to 10 million people (the Egyptian population is 80 million strong today, and expected to keep on growing) could become inner climate refugees, Security_was_especially_tight_after_a_series_of_bombings_ripped_through_Cairo_on_24th_January_2014_-_25-Jan-2014in a country where the available living space is already saturated and, even worse, shrinking because of the growing demographic pressure. This is happening in a country where some radicalized faith-based movements are committed to armed violence (The Guardian, “6 Egyptian military police killed as gunmen attack checkpoint“, 15 March 2014).

These dangerous life conditions meet the new power games, as explained in the previous post, centered on the sharing of the Nile water, the quasi-only source of water for Egypt (Franck Galland, Chroniques géopolitiques de l’eau, 2014). All of the upstream riparian countries, Uganda for the Blue Nile and Ethiopia for the White Nile, South Sudan and Sudan, need a larger share of the river, given the growth of their populations and, especially for Ethiopia, their economic development (Galland, ibid).

These new needs create political tensions between the riparian countries and Egypt that may only increase, knowing that, according to the IPCC, the rate of annual rain and thus of available surface water may decrease during the coming decades (IPCC fifth assessment, ibid).

However, in the same time, since 2013, Egypt benefits from a renewed political and strategic solidarity from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This new solidarity helps the Egyptian government to cover its financial, food and energy needs and is politically motivated by a common strategy of prevention of any further degradation of the economic, social and political conditions of Egypt (Mada Masr, “Saudi aid expected to flow after the elections“, February 5, 2014).

This Saudi-Egyptian cooperation is hoped to prevent the poorest people to join religious radicalized movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, in reaction to the degradation of the lives of their families. In other words, Saudi Arabia helps the state of Egypt to remain sustainable for strategic reasons, in order to weaken the social support to Islamist movements across the Arab world, movements that both the Saudi and Egyptian governments understand as being dangerous for their legitimacy and their stability (Jason Burke, 9/11 wars, 2011).

The coming politics and strategies of climate change?

These politics and strategies of security and sustainability constitute a first kind of reactions to problems induced by the social-demographic-economic-climate nexus (Fritzsche and Ruettinger, Environment, Climate Change and Security in the Southern Mediterranean, Review report, Adelphi, 2013). In this framework, one must remember that Egypt has built itself on politics and grand strategies elaborated to overcome that very kind of challenge (Jacques Berque, L’Egypte, Impérialisme et Révolution, 1967).


During antiquity, the Pharaonic political system was protecting society from inner struggles, foreign invasion and environmental disasters, such as the yearly Nile floods, turned into the main support for agriculture through vast irrigation works. Thus, the state was ensuring the vital crops that turned Egypt into a “Mediterranean wheat granary” during centuries (Berque, ibid).


Today, climate change and resources depletion pulls the world into a new era of forced adaptation (IPCC, ibid), which, in the case of Egypt, appears to be by now the only alternative to the collapse (Jared Diamond, Collapse, 2005) that could result from the synergy of food, water and sea level rise crises.

A national adaptation to these new and evolving conditions implies to renew the legitimacy relationship between the political authorities and the population, through strategies that are not “simply” of social control, security and defence, but involve the emergence of a common national purpose (Edward Luttwak, Strategy, the logic and war and peace, 2001).

Choosing a future?

As the new Constitution of the Republic of Egypt, approved in 2014, establishes, the state must protect the environment and the natural and economic resources, as well as the infrastructures that the society needs for its sustainability. In order to give Egypt a livable future, the Egyptian government will have to devise what we shall call a “grand strategy of adaptation to climate change”.


The ability or inability of the different political authorities, especially governments (the Mubarak government ousted by the “Arab Spring”, then Morsi’s, ousted by the Tamarod Movement and the military), define the way those political authorities can, or not, protect the population from the vital danger that a pronounced rise in the food and energy prices could bring, and thus, by the same token, these authorities’ very legitimacy. When this legitimacy and authority weaken, the means to protect the population decrease, while the risks of radicalization and violence increase (John Gray, Black Mass, Apocalyptic religion and the death of Utopia, 2007). 

Thus, the present political situation shows the importance for the very survival of the country of the way the Egyptian legitimate authorities will shift, or not, to “grand strategies of adaptation” over the next twenty years.

The current struggle between the government and religious extremist factions, while coping with a giant economic and food crisis (Reuters, “Egypt has less than 2 months imported wheat, says ex-minister”, Al Arabiya, 11 July 2013), and the renewed foreign policy that accompanies it, gives us some indications about the path to the future that is currently chosen, between renewed sustainability and collapse (Diamond, ibid). Even if it is in the midst of great difficulties (Fritzsche and Ruettinger, ibid), Egypt seems to be choosing sustainability.

The option toward sustainability permeates the current axes of the new Egyptian foreign policy. On the one hand, the Egyptian diplomacy develops new economic alliances with Arab countries. It also wages, on the other hand, an international advocacy campaign to keep 55% share of the Nile water for Egypt (Michael Klare, Resource wars, 2002), despite the ongoing building of the “Renaissance dam” of Ethiopia, which is going to lessen the downstream flow of water when the regional climate may become ever more arid (IPCC, ibid).

327px-River_Nile_mapThis international strategy will necessitate strong continuity between domestic and foreign policies, as well as the creation of regional ways and means to manage African and Middle Eastern interdependencies in the context of climate change.

These continuities from domestic national security issues to regional and international politics may produce a grand strategy that strengthens the present and future social cohesion of Egypt against the risk of further radicalization of domestic politics, even though the collective life conditions may increasingly be at risk.

The success, or not (Acemoglu and Robinson, Why nations fail, 2012), of this grand strategy, will be the political basis for the legitimacy of the government, and a very important tool to prevent radicalization and violent social chaos by guaranteeing the material and political basis of social cohesion.

Furthermore, a national grand strategy of adaptation to climate change could also be a way to unite the Egyptian people against the common and collectively experienced threat of climate change, as well as a common political unifying goal. 640px-Giza_pyramid01(js)The vast endeavours that it would imply, such as the creation of a dike system along the Delta littoral against the rising of the sea, could deeply resonate with the tradition of public works and environmental management, from the building of the ancient pyramids 5000 years ago to the great Aswan Dam.

In other words, and against all odds, climate adaptation could be an innovative way, rooted in its history, for the Egyptian civilization to protect and project itself in the future.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin leads the environment and security division at The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

Security and Sustainability: the Future of Egypt?

The new constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, approved in January 2014, states, in four articles, the rights and duties of the state and of the citizens about the Suez Canal, the environment and natural resources, and the Nile.

These articles have a political and strategic meaning in the current domestic security situation, dominated by rising tensions between the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a catastrophic economic situation, heightened by the environmental and international context of Egypt and of the Nile riparian countries.

318px-EG_guard_Suez-channelTo understand the political and strategic situation of Egypt, today and during the twenty years to come we must consider the context of its current national sustainability crisis (Valantin, Egypt, climate change and the long resource civil warfare, 2014) and of the emergence of new African actors.

Security, sustainability and legitimacy

The new Egyptian constitution clearly links the articles about the Suez Canal and the Nile River, both having to be “protected by the State”. The same principles are applied to the environment and the natural resources, to the point, in the article 46, that:

“The state is committed to taking the necessary measures to preserve it [the environment], avoid harming it, rationally use its natural resources to ensure that sustainable development is achieved, and guarantee the rights of future generations thereto.”

This reveals the state of mind of the Egyptian political and military authorities, which understand that their country has entered a new era. In this era, the legitimacy of the state, and thus the consensus or the resistance it inspires, is defined, following Weber, by the way it protects the basic conditions upon which rests the social and biological life of the population from new global environmental, economic and political risks (Max Weber, The three types of legitimate rule, 1958; James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency, 2005).

Those basic conditions are food, especially bread, water, and energy (Valantin, ibid). These requirements are turning into a strategic challenge for Egypt, because, paradoxically, of the dawning economic development and demographic explosion of the other Nilotic countries.

Egyptian instability as a subsistence crisis

US_Secretary_of_State_Kerry_Meets_With_Egyptian_Military_Leader_General_al-Sisi_in_Cairo_2013-11-03The revolt against Hosni Mubarak took place in 2011, followed in 2012 by the election of Mohamed Morsi as president, who thus brought the Egyptian government under domination of the Muslim Brotherhood (Georges Corm, Le Proche-Orient éclaté, 2013). Rapidly, in July 2013, popular protests spearheaded by the Tamarod movement with support from the military brought about Morsi’s demise.

Actually, this process of deep political instability began in 2008, with violent food riots in Cairo, which started the delegitimization of Hosni Mubarak, President since 1980 (Krista Mahr, “Bread is life: food and protest in Egypt“, Time Magazine, January 31, 2011).

The huge 2008 spike in oil prices triggered these food riots, which affected Africa, Asia and South America (Michael Klare, The Coming Global Explosion, 2013). In 2010 and 2011, wheat and meat prices rose by almost 20%.

640px-Russialsta_tmo_2010208_lrgThen, in 2010, the wheat and paddy rice prices were impacted when the Russian, American, Canadian and Australian crops were deeply affected by extreme weather events (drought, heat waves, wild fires, heavy rains…) (Werrell and Femia, ed., The Arab Spring and Climate Change, 2013). Furthermore, in 2011 a long drought in Western China led Beijing to purchase large stocks of wheat on the international market, which led to a new rise in food prices (Werrell and Femia, ibid).

640px-2007_bread_Cairo_3167762218Knowing that Egypt is the world largest importer of wheat, when 40% of the Egyptian population live mainly on bread and rice, this global situation was especially troublesome in Egypt, because bread is the only staple between the 32 millions of the poorest Egyptian people and individual and collective hunger (David P. Goldman, “Wheat at record is the worst thing that could happen to Egypt“, Gatestone Institute, July 20, 2012).

Food security concerns are a powerful undercurrent for the different political forms of unrest, from protests and riots to bombings and urban, rural and Sinai attacks and combats between the police and military forces and violent armed groups since 2011 (Ilan Berman, “In Egypt, Rethinking the Revolution“, Forbes, 7 February, 2013).

Heavy_security_in_and_around_Tahrir_square_on_the_3rd_anniversary_of_the_2011_revolution_-_25-Jan-2014As a result, insuring food security means, basically, preventing the emergence of collective violence and political instability (Shadia Nasralla and Shamine Saleh, “Egypt food supplies Shake Up sees officials deferred to prosecutor“, Reuters, 24 February 2014).

Sharing the Nile?

640px-Nile_Flood_plain_limits_(2009)Furthermore, the subsistence insecurity is aggravated by new strategic tensions about the Nile River. As the principal source of water for Egypt, the Nile has a fundamental function for the daily biological life of each and every Egyptian, for agriculture, which produces half of the wheat consumed, and for industry.

327px-River_Nile_mapEgypt receives 55 billions of cubic meters from the Nile water, equivalent to two-thirds of its flow (Robert Twigger, Red Nile, 2013). The Egyptian Nile has been regulated since 1970 by the gigantic Aswan Dam and used for hydropower generation.

However, this “life support system” is questioned by South Sudan and Ethiopia and the politics of the Nile Basin: before merging in Khartoum in Sudan, and becoming the Nile River, the Blue Nile takes its source and runs through Ethiopia while a long portion of the White Nile runs through South Sudan (Michael Klare, Resource Wars, 2002).

320px-Meles_Zenawi_-_World_Economic_Forum_on_Africa_2012Ethiopia knows a major demographic growth (65 578 000 in 2000, 82 950 000 in 2010), combined with an impressive economic take off with almost 10% growth per year, as it has become an African “workshop”for the Chinese industry (Franck Galland, Le Grand Jeu, Chroniques géopolitiques de l’eau, 2014).

Ethiopia thus needs to use a larger share of the Nile water for its population, its developing economy and its agriculture. Consequently, it plans to build the “Great Renaissance Dam” and the work started in 2012 (Reuters, Aaron Masho, “Ethiopia Diverts Nile for Huge $ 4.7 billions Hydro Dam“, May 28, 2013). South Sudan faces analogous demographic and agricultural needs (Ayah Aman, “Egypt tries to woo South Sudan in Nile water dispute“, Al Monitor, March 31, 2014).

Hence, Cairo fears an important decrease in the river flow, at a moment of great need for its own agricultural and energy demands (Peter Heinlein, Egypt fears Diversion of Nile Waters for a New Dam, Voice of America, 29 May 2013).

The new international and environmental conditions are now the very substance of the Egyptian domestic politics of national security.

The Egyptian government is now confronted with the prospect of facing the combination of food, water and energy insecurity (Valantin, 2014) in a time of prolonged political unrest and dire financial crisis. In other terms, the new international and environmental conditions are now the very substance of the Egyptian domestic politics of national security.

So, the successful new development of Ethiopia becomes a source of hydro competition with Egypt, which fears for its own development.

A new “axis of inter-dependency”?

In fact, the massive problems of Egypt are turning into a paradoxical political capital. This emerges when, in August-September 2013, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait decided to support the new government after it ousted President Morsi and militarily repressed the Muslim Brotherhood (AFP, Saudi Arabia says Arabs ready to cover cuts in Western aid to Egypt, Al Arabiya, 19 August 2013).

This aid was a diversified package equivalent to 14 billion USD, 4 of them given as oil, and offered a few days after the US threatened to freeze its annual 1,5 billion USD aid to Egypt, (Terry Atlas, Obama has reasons to maintain aid, Bloomberg News, 16 Aug. 2013). The funds helped urgently buy wheat, after months of absence on the international market, which had created a growing tension on the bread market, certainly a major cause of collective anger against the Morsi government (Reuters, Egypt has less than 2 months imported wheat, says ex-minister, Al Arabiya, 11 July 2013).

499px-Persian_Gulf_Arab_States_englishThe aid demonstrates that, to other Middle Eastern countries, the heightening of instability in Egypt further increases its  political importance.

This move from Saudi Arabia did help to restore the short-term sustainability of the Egyptian society. It was motivated by the will of oil-rich Arab countries to prevent the rise of politico-religious extremism, which would have been a strong blow to regional security (Dr Theodore Karasik, Gulf States take a time out from rift, Al Arabiya, 20 April 2014) given the major importance of Egypt in the Arab world.

In the same time, despite the tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt raised by the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and leading the Egyptian authorities to adopt a very martial tone, a related international dialogue was started. It is difficult to see how Egypt could afford to go to war with Ethiopia and South Sudan, while being almost bankrupted (Ben W. Heineman jr, General’s Sissi greatest enemy: The Egyptian Economy, The Atlantic, March 27, 2014).

Furthermore, Russia and China, allies and partners of the Nile River riparian countries, and major players in the Middle East, are involved in the negotiations (Daily News Egypt, China gives Egypt 24.7 million non refundable grant, December 16, 2013; Middle East Briefing, Egypt and Ethiopia, rising tensions, 24 February 2014).

Egypt is looking for an international decision, or will be forced to work with the other regional actors to define a common governance of the Nile Basin (UPI, Battle of the Nile: Egypt, Ethiopia clash over mega-dam, February 7, 2014).

In fact, the complex politico-environmental-strategic situation of Egypt reveals how water, food, climate and energy conditions create a new African-Arab community of interdependency, linking Egypt, the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes region and the Middle East, in the context of the African and Middle Eastern dimensions of the Russia-China relationship.

In other words, the legitimacy of the Egyptian government rests upon its ability to combine security and sustainability at the national level, as is written in the new Constitution, while working with Nilotic and Middle Eastern countries, which are changing and, for some, developing quite quickly, without forgetting the crucial global context.

It now remains to be seen how Egypt is going to adapt, or not, to climate change, the common challenge it will face with Africa and the Middle East, and how that will cause either a rift or a new solidarity for common forms of adaptation and resilience.

To be (soon) continued.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin leads the environment and security division at The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

Afghanistan at a New Crossroad: Resource Curse or Asian integration?

The first sentence of the 2006 US Quadrennial Defence Review is “The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war”.

Afghanistan, risk analysis

Any civilian, military or factious leader in Afghanistan, could have written almost exactly the same after thirty-five years of war. And this war still goes on, but it now faces a strange strategic, ecological and economic transition, that could be dominated by a new “Afghan resource and climate curse”. Continue reading Afghanistan at a New Crossroad: Resource Curse or Asian integration?

Pakistan and the “Long Storm”

Pakistan_mapPakistan is internationally known for a wide array of geopolitical and domestic problems. It is stuck between India and Afghanistan, China and Iran, and is taken in a very uneasy alliance with the United States.

The multiple violent disputes between factions defined along the mixed lines of region, religion, tribe, economy, family and politics are infinite. Their combination with the US “drone strategy” in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and its blowback further heightens these tensions (Jason Burke, 9/11 Wars, 2011). Moreover, the country knows the same demographic and urban explosion as the whole of South Asia, while being taken in the complicated political and religious games that affect Muslim and non-Muslim countries in the region, and beyond (Anatol Lieven, Pakistan, A Hard country, 2011). Furthermore, since 1998, it is a nuclear power (e.g. NTI, Pakistan Nuclear Power, July 2013).

Finally, today, one major fact must be understood: this country is on the most advanced front lines of climate change, and we need a new approach to understand what it means for Pakistan and for the world.


The country is organized along the Indus River valley. The river has its sources on the Tibetan plateau and flows through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.

During the 2010 summer, from 29 July to the early days of September, the Indus floods were historically catastrophic. In one month, 1,781 people died and 2,966 people injured, more than 6 millions people were made homeless, and more than 18 millions of people were affected in a way or another (Reliefweb).


Huge swaths of Punjab and Sindh, the “breadbasket” of Pakistan, were submerged for more than a month.  Water covered more than twenty per cent of the country, and affected more than 7.9 million acres (3.2 million hectares) of land, washing out entire crops and destroying the seeds needed for the next crop season.  Flood waters took weeks to recede, and destroyed 70% of the bridges and the roads in the flooded areas (Environment News Service, September 1, 2010).

The reaction of the Pakistani government proved awfully inadequate, letting the vast majority of the population facing the disaster without their support, while emergency and crisis management matters were left to the NGOs and the US military (Jason Burke, ibid).


This catastrophe was the result of heavy monsoon rains, combined with some intense melting of the Himalayan glaciers. So, the Indus water met top soils already saturated by water that could not be, even partially, absorbed. The whole dynamic was aggravated by the ongoing deforestation of the country.  33% of the forest cover have been lost since 1990 in favour of crop cultivation, which facilitates riverbank erosion and flood expansion, (Michael Kugelman, Pakistan’s Climate Change Challenge, Foreign Policy, May 9, 2012).

A very similar scenario took place one year later, in 2011. A twelve months  drought was followed by record shattering monsoon rains, combined with a strong melting of the Himalayan glaciers. The resulting flood affected 8 millions people, inundated 1.3 millions homes, and killed 350 people, while destroying crops in the Sindh province (Zafar Iqbal, Pakistan: another victim of climate change, Environment news service, September 27, 2011).

Since then, Pakistan has been reported as being at the very top of the list of countries affected by climate change, according to the Global climate risk index (


However, the way Pakistan recovers from these huge disasters demonstrates a strong resilience capacity. This comes most probably from the fact that “Pakistan has a weak state and a strong society” (Lieven, ibid).

There is a huge risk to see this type of scenario becoming the “new normal” during the years and decades to come, in a country with a population that could grow from 180 million today to 256 million in 2030 (Jeff Spross, Climate Progress, July 22, 2013).

The “water curse”


A naturally arid country, Pakistan literally emerges from the gigantic system of irrigation created during the nineteenth century by  British engineers, for the most part in the Sindh region (Fred Pearce, When the Rivers Run Dry, 2005). Thus, only 24% of Pakistan is irrigated and cultivated (Lieven, ibid), the rest being semi-desertic.

Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the simultaneous growth of demographics, cities, and food needs went hand in hand with the building of a dam system along the Indus, on the one hand, and, on the other, violent and nationalistic tension with India about Kashmir. (Parenti, ibid).

Today, the Indus is dangerously overexploited and badly managed, while the rate of evaporation increases. Meanwhile, water tables are overused, as is the case in Islamabad and Rawalpindi (Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos, 2011).

In July 2013, in Abbotabad, residents threatened the local government of mass demonstrations if a solution was not found to the multiplying water shortages when the weather was very hot (Aziz Nayani, The Atlantic, Pakistan’s New Big Threat Isn’t Terrorism—It’s Water, July 19, 2013).


On top of this, India has constructed the Baglihar dam on the Chenab, one the main tributary of the Indus, despite the fact that the water of the Chenab has been attributed to Pakistan under the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty.

As a result and despite past real diplomatic efforts to ease their historical feuds, exemplified by a cooperation induced by the Indus Waters Treaty,  signed in 1960, renewed tension emerged between India and Pakistan (Parenti, ibid). Indeed, the dam seems to have reduced the flow of water arriving in the Indus valley (Parenti, ibid). 


Political parties, some close to Pakistani Taliban, mix religious, political and water issues in their discourses. In 2010, there have been several demonstrations of farmers, whose slogan was “Water flows, or Blood” (Parenti, ibid). Today, the potential for conflict of the Indus Basin is closely watched by the US intelligence community.

The current annual water availability from the Indus is of 236 billion cubic meters (bcm), while water demand could rise to 338 bcm in 2025 because of the demographic growth. Yet water availability will remain the same as today, if it doesn’t decrease (Woodrow Wilson Center, Kugelman, 2009).

Furthermore, there are also tensions between the Pakistani provinces, especially Punjab and Sindh, because of the regional dams. Sindh is the lower riparian province and particularly sensitive to water sharing issues with Punjab, as irrigation and the prevention of soil salinization are major issues for this agricultural region (Fred Pearce, ibid).

Climate siege

These water tensions are turned into a massive strategic issue by climate change. Nowadays, Pakistan is literally under a “climate siege”. During the coming years and decades, the melting of the glaciers that are feeding the Indus is going to worsen (Joe Romm, Climate Progress, Asia glacier retreat, August 31 2010). Even if there are many debates to know when they will have melted, the basic fact remains: during the decades to come, their decrease could very well threaten the life of 200 to 250 million people (Anatol Lieven, ibid). 80% of the Himalayan glaciers are already melting.

This situation combines itself dangerously with the other impacts of climate change, such as the multiplication of extreme weather events, drought, floods, heat waves, higher average temperatures and sea level rise (The Nation, 22 january 2014).


These new climate conditions will have a rural impact, by reducing crop yields, and degrading the farmers’ conditions of life, thus reinforcing the rural exodus. The giant cities of Pakistan, already saturated, will become increasingly violent and unstable, as they receive vast numbers of people from different provinces, villages, and families. Pakistani people are all knitted together by the very strong ties of kinship (Lieven, ibid). Kinship makes for a very robust and resilient social link. Thus, these new and strongly connected urban migrants will feed the competition for the “jobs, food, water, services” in dysfunctional mega-cities in a specific way organised along kinship lines, and thus, potentially including kinship feuds (The Nation, Developing cities must protect against climate risks: study, November 29, 2012).

This situation will be particularly dangerous for Karachi, as for many coastal mega-cities. Karachi is already an extremely violent city (e.g. Huma Yusuf, Tactical Cities: Negotiating Violence in Karachi, Pakistan), while being the main Pakistani seaport and economic and financial center. Its power of attraction turns it into the epicenter of the political and religious conflicts of the country. At a time, the rise of the sea due to climate change will threaten the city with coastal flooding and will trigger new conflicts because of the destruction of the much-needed urban space that it will entail (Lieven, ibid).

Pakistan, a new world environmental power

If the situation of Pakistan indicates that, according to the works of Jared Diamond, Thomas Homer Dixon or Acemoglu and Robinson, this country is “on the brink” (Ahmed Rashid) of collapse, things could, nevertheless, be much more surprising.


“Around 500 million people in South Asia live on the coastal belt and their livelihoods will be destroyed if the sea levels rise,” said Pakistani Senator Mushahid Hussain, host of a conference on national security and climate change, in Islamabad in January 2013. (The Express Tribune, 22 January 2013). Out of those “500 million”, several million will be Pakistanis in the coastal area (knowing that Karachi in itself counts at least 10 million people).

In other terms, neither the country itself, nor its neighbors, nor, for that matter, other powers “can afford” to see Pakistan collapse. Should this happen, the whole region would be destabilized by flows of “collapse refugees” on an unprecedented scale, while India, China and Iran would be struggling with the same kind of problems (Lieven, ibid). Furthermore, this terrible scenario could be worsened by the religious and political factor that have already triggered massive unrest and slaughters between Muslims and non-Muslims populations in 1947 (Lieven, ibid).

Thus, neither Pakistan nor its neighbours  can allow a global Pakistani disaster to happen.


Furthermore, the weak Pakistani State would be torn apart, while remaining nuclear (Paul Bracken, The Second Nuclear Age, 2012), which would obviously become immediately a global concern.

In fact, a new definition and dimension of international and regional security is emerging in this region, that we shall call “collapse prevention”. These interdependent security issues can become even more complex and sensitive, as they become entangled with other strategic issues, as exemplified by the fact that China has obtained the right, in 2012, to operate the Pakistani strategic port of Gwadar, close to the Iran border and the Strait of Hormuz.

The threat of its own collapse invests fragile Pakistan with a new political capital, turning the country into a new kind of “strongly weak” major regional and international player.

And so, the threat of its own collapse invests fragile Pakistan with a new political capital, turning the country into a new kind of “strongly weak” major regional and international player. The geophysics of climate change transform the status of Pakistan in a radical way: regional powers, Eurasia and the U.S. cannot allow the collapse of a nuclear power having a population of almost 200 million people, or more.

Towards an “extreme future”?

The combination of climate, water, agricultural, and energy problems, with the different forms of factionalism and the explosive urban growth (Anish Alavi, The Rising Cost of Climate Change, Dawn, 2012-01-20) have led the Pakistani government to try implementing adapted policies, such as the National Climate Change Policy, endorsed by the Prime Minister and supported by the Ministry of National disaster management (Kugelman, 2012).

However, the structural weakness of the Federal State condemns any national policy to a very limited level of efficiency.  This means that the new forms of sustainability will need to come from the infra-State level(s), ranging from the provincial level to the regional and local levels of the  “politics of kinship”, which appear to be the main rampart against the violence of climate change.

This means that, as of now, the crucial, delicate and fragile strategic balance in South Asia, is supported by the way Pakistani communities, provinces, cities and the strange “weak and nuclear” Federal State will adapt, or not, to the “long storm” that climate change may very well be for their country in the years to come. Of their success or failure depends the near future of the overcrowded, resource stressed and nuclear South Asia.

Pattern – Higher Global Temperatures, Earlier Impacts and the Shale Fuels Bounty

We most probably need to get ready for a 2C global temperatures’ increase and its harsh impact on the world relatively rapidly, as a temperatures’ rise of 6C – and above – by the end of the century is increasingly probable. Indeed, interests and current challenges and tensions are most likely to favour shale fuels’ production and policies and adversely affect “green efforts”. Other adverse ecological impacts on global security issues such as water and biodiversity may be enhanced and must be monitored. Citizens’ mobilization on those issues may evolve as trade-offs will be done, and as impacts will be felt.


climate change, greenland, melt, World BankOn 18 November, the World Bank published a new report warning about the dire impacts of temperatures rising over 2C or worse over 4C, and admonishes staying below the 2C target.

However, if you remember last week’s news, PricewaterhouseCoopers has published another report that underlines that warming of at least 6C by the end of the century is possible, if the current efforts, or lack thereof, at tackling the problem are not considerably stepped up.

Meanwhile, the IEA has hailed, again last week, what had been discussed for a few months in various energy related fora, a new position for the “United States [that] will overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer by 2017″, thanks to tight light oil (shale oil) and shale gas.

Despite controversies on the reality of this forecast, it is almost certain that the U.S., as well as all other countries who could see their oil and gas production boosted by use of shale oil and gas will promote this “new” fossil fuel policy, as pointed out in this article:

U.S. the New Saudi Arabia? Peak Oilers Scoff: The U.S. is set to increase oil production so much that it will overtake Saudi Arabia and become the world’s biggest producer by around 2… (by Peter CoyBusinessweek)

The very tense – and increasingly so – international situation and its effect on energy prices, when energy is crucial in terms of defence, notably for power projection, may only enhance the desire to get hold of black gold. Meanwhile, the sovereign debt, financial and economic crises, the related domestic unrest and ongoing polarisation are likely to surround the possibility of new revenues and reduced energy imports with the aura of a miraculous solution.

Oil rises as Israel-Hamas fight continues – BANGKOK (AP): The price of oil rose to nearly $88 a barrel Monday in Asia as the conflict between Israel and Hamas showed no signs… (SFGate)

If we add the lobbying by oil interests and related industries and the currently very powerful position of a financial establishment looking for growth of profits – one pole of the polarization – then the likelihood to see governments ruling over countries with shale deposits “putting oil subsidies into green infrastructure” is close to zero or even nil… unless a miracle happens.

Put oil subsidies into green infrastructure: World Bank – Times LIVE: The initiative was one of several it promoted in releasing its latest report on global warming, “Turn Down the Heat.” World Bank President…

But then, this means that we do have to get ready for the fateful 6C increase or more by the end of the century. This means that the timeline for the increase in temperature is changing and thus that the 2C and then 4C increase will be reached much earlier. We must thus re-evaluate current and near future impacts of climate change without forgetting other ecosystemic effects, such as, for example, the consequences of fracking on water, when water is another global security concern.

However, citizens also mobilize around those issues, as is not lost on the IEA (see last slide).

Thus, shall we see an increased mobilization and tension, or will citizens, too, have to face the difficult choice of issues and problems prioritization? What will result from the trade-offs? How those trade-offs will then evolve as adverse impacts are felt earlier? How will other players, with other interests alter the chessboard?


The World Bank – Climate Change – Climate Change Report Warns of Dramatically Warmer World This Century

PwC Report States that Global Temperatures will Increase by 6°C by 2100,

U.S. to overtake Saudi as top oil producer: IEA, Reuters, Peg Mackey.

U.S. the New Saudi Arabia? Peak Oilers Scoff by Peter Coy, Businessweek

Put oil subsidies into green infrastructure: World Bank – Times LIVE

Oil rises as Israel-Hamas fight continues – BANGKOK (AP), SFGate

Light Tight Oil and Unconventional Gas: ‘Golden Rules’ to Stay On-track (slides), INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY

2013 – 2018 EVT – Learning from Water Privatization? (Panglossy)

This post, as many others in the Chronicles of Everstate, can be read both as part of the scenarios on the future of the nation-state, as explained below, or as part of the section on Global Water Security. This shows how all issues are intertwined, and that the multiple existing feedbacks should not be ignored.

Previously: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something when new elections start, which begins the second scenario, Panglossy. The new Everstatan government, dependent upon past thinking, decides that a return to economic efficiency through growth is the key to the crisis. The first years fail to bring back growth; the power of the lenders’ nexus and induced appropriation of public power continue unabated as the regulation of the international financial system does not progress. The initial efforts to fund  Green Growth through infrastructure investments show minimal and disappointing impacts. Worse still, the initial implementation of air commodification under the ISSIGE flagship project by the consortium Novair triggers a nationwide wave of outrage because the beliefs of Everstatans are denied at all levels, while the elite is surprised.   

(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab – a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading)

The Everstatan elite, surprised by the new Air Revolt, continues applying to the situation a superficial analogy with water to estimate the severity of the outrage in the country and its potential evolution. Yet, analogy is not comparison and is often insufficient to inform proper understanding and thus decisions.

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – Public Domain

First, the commodification of water, in its second wave, is still a very recent phenomenon. It started at the end of the 20th century with the privatization of water utilities in the United Kingdom of Margaret Thatcher, and is far from being completed, assuming it is meant to follow an ineluctable path towards completion, which has still to be proven. Everstatan elite cannot thus easily draw any clear conclusion.

Second, some voices exist, even if they are not so numerous and have so far not mobilised masses, that underline the ethical problems linked to the privatization of water (e.g. 2008 Symposium) or criticise the whole commodification endeavour.

Third, the current and future various issues and problems surrounding global water security will most probably keep the matter of water services privatization and water commodification on the agenda, seen in an even larger perspective, where security questions and geopolitics will be underlined.* This is likely to lead to stronger stance taken by all actors, and open the door to any strategy including manipulation and irredentism. As a result, a complete and smooth commodification of water that would not generate rebellions cannot be taken for granted.

Sbocco della Cloaca Massima in Rome, sewer system started in 735 B.C by Ettore Roesler Franz, 1880 via Wikimedia Commons

Fourth, in countries such as Everstate, when water was privatized at the end of the twentieth century, it was done in a way that is very different from the way Novstate-Air intends to monetize air. Then, a public service dealing with water-related issues was handed over or sold from the state to private companies. This was only one episode in the millennia-long struggle of human societies to manage wastewater, sewage and obtain clean water (Jungclaus, 1998). Everstatans never went from free clean water, or free apparently clean water, free sewage, etc. to becoming suddenly aware of the extent and danger of polluted water and having to pay for being able to drink and eat safely.

1865 – New York City Sanitary Commission, via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, throughout the millennia old struggle for safe water, they have, at least dimly, become conscious of direct links between living beings concentrations and water pollution, thus of their own responsibility. This long process and history does not exist in the case of air. With water, there was thus no effect of shock, no sudden awareness triggering a feeling of injustice and moral outrage, when there is with air. This implies that the absence of initial reaction in the case of water cannot be used to deduce that Everstate’s air revolt is unimportant and will be short-lived.

Finally, timing matters, twice. The privatisation of water utilities itself is not always done nationally but according to the administrative organisation underlying the public service, most of the time municipalities. This implies that changes happen according to the timing of each town. This stops the creation of any nationwide reaction. The impossibility of such large reaction is strengthened by the diverse situations existing for each administrative division. However, here, had separatists feelings and right conditions existed, water privatization in Everstate would then have strengthened those sentiments (see the last posts of the Mamominarch scenario for an example of such dynamics). Those underlying processes could and should have been considered by Novstate-Air and the Everstatan government, as those lessons were applicable to air. Considering the current conditions in Everstate, Novstate-Air had thus the “choice” between triggering a nationwide protest and sowing the seeds for separatism.

Then, water privatisation has mainly been done before the crisis, before the rise of inequalities and decline of purchasing power became obvious, before the rise of tension, before the legitimacy of governments and actors and of the whole socio-political model started being questioned.

Walker, DEFRA, 2009

In the past, if water prices increased with privatization (Barlow, 2001), the share of the water bill in a household expenses (e.g. averaged to 335$ a year in the U.S. in 2012 by the American Water Works Association, CNN February 28, 2012, 339£ a year in England and Wales in 2009 according to DEFRA, with many local and individual variations) and the added cost were not such that a collective feeling of relative deprivation could be born. The unequal weight of water bills according to household income inequalities must however be noted (Smets, 2002). Then, water privatization has been done while respecting, to a point, and with (large) variations according to countries and actors, the human right not to die of thirst or because of polluted water. For example, the existence of public fountains, access to clean public utilities, etc. has been maintained, while in many OECD countries one scheme or another used to exist or was created to help the poorest face their water bills. There was thus little that could have triggered a nationwide outrage and related escalation.

The commodification of air is happening in completely different circumstances and with no such safeguards as those that were implemented for water. Actually, Everstate’s Air revolt should suggest to the government and concerned actors that they should actively revisit water related policies, be they public, private, or mixed, as circumstances have changed. True enough, the privatization of water has been done and thus it cannot be a trigger for a new rebellion. If matters continue to be handled carefully by all actors involved, if the impacts of the various global and local evolutions are properly foreseen, while adapted and timely preventive measures are implemented, then the risk to see water riots added to the air revolt will be minimized. On the contrary, lack of foresight and of caution, which, considering the overall level of tension and ideological polarization becomes everyday more plausible in Everstate, will most probably mean that water issues will soon be added to the escalating number of grievances.

Alas, neither Novstate-Air nor the Everstatan governing bodies even attempt to move beyond the analogy with a water privatization of the past. They thus decide that the air revolt is nothing more than the passing fit of a population that does not truly understand problems, and that an emphasis on communication and advertisement while local meetings with the population are organised by Novstate-Air and the local authorities will be enough to defuse the anger. Meanwhile Novstate-Air does not change the schedule according to which Air contributions will be collected.

To be continued…. after the Summer.



* For more references, see, notably U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, Global Water Security, 2 February 2012, and two previous posts as well as their bibliography: Water security: a strategic foresight and warning issue for national security? (1 February 2012) and Building upon the 2012 “Global Water Security” IC Assessment (27 March 2012).

American Water Works Association

Barlow, Maude, “The Water Privateers,” Blue Gold: The global water crisis and the commodification of the world’s water supply (International Forum on Globalization (IFG), 2001).

Ellis, Blake, “Water bills expected to triple in some parts of U.S.,” CNNMoney, February 28, 2012.

Jungclaus, Joyce Everhart, “1998 Congress Recap” published in the APWA Reporter, excerpt republished as “History of sewage management” on Bloomington Minnesota Cityweb.

Smets, Henri, Le Droit à l’Eau, Conseil européen du droit de l’environnement., 2002.

Symposium Proceedings: Common Grounds, Common Waters: Toward a Water Ethic, Panel I: Water Ethics and Commodification of Freshwater Resources, Diamond, Stephen (Moderator), 6 Santa Clara J. Int’l Law 15 (2008).

U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, Global Water Security, 2 February 2012.

Walker, Anna, CB, Independent Review of Charging for Household Water and Sewerage Services, DEFRA, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK), December 2009.

Wikipedia, Criticisms of the commodification of water.

Wikipedia, History of Water Privatization.

Building upon the 2012 “Global Water Security” IC Assessment

This post was selected to be re-posted as part of AlertNet’s special multimedia report “The Battle for Water:” The Battle for Water – Global water security: moving towards worldwide assessment

Considering any issue in terms of strategic foresight and warning for national security demands, first and foremost, a minimal understanding of the issue itself, which is notably obtained by reaching out to experts in the related fields, as done by the ICA. This is true for water as for any other issue. Without this initial enquiry, it is impossible to even hope delivering proper foresight and warning to policy-makers. It is only after the issue is understood that we may sieve our analysis through the various filters of national security, mission of the institution carrying the analysis and finally complex policy-making system.

Focusing initially on an understanding of water, without any self-imposed restriction, will underline three major points, already sparsely evidenced in the ICA, and upon which we could build more systematically for an even better, and more actionable strategic foresight and warning on water related security issues.

Moving beyond a deceptive anthropocentric water usage

by US ICA p.ii

First, and as underlined by all studies on water, including by the ICA, water on Earth is distributed according to various forms and places.

The most widely used estimate of water distribution was established by Igor Shiklomanov (1993) and is similar to a more recent assessment (Gleick, 1996), as the two tables below, extracted from the USGS website, show. It would appear that the ICA uses the same figures, approximations on percentages apart.*

As a result, most studies dealing with water as security issue mainly focus on freshwater, especially freshwater most commonly used by human beings, i.e. rivers and lakes, as well as groundwater. This is how the ICA proceeds, indeed emphasising that “we do not do a comprehensive analysis of the entire global water landscape” (Scope Note). However, one also finds throughout the assessment, evidence that the ICA does not actually limit itself to this approach, as we shall see.

It is indeed necessary to define and most often reduce the scope of any study, as well as to focus on specific objectives, here national interest. Human usage of water is obviously crucial for survival, likely to generate tensions and thus of primary importance to national security. However, because we are here considering potential threats and opportunities to national security, are we sure we can reduce our area of concern to human usage?

Indeed, usage on the one hand and threats or opportunities on the other are not synonymous, notably in the context of climate change and other anthropogenic changes  (i.e. changes caused by humans) we must face nowadays.

For example, we now know that a drop in biodiversity may enhance the risks of epidemics (Suzán et al. 2009; Sohn 2009). Hence, if biodiversity is reduced as a result of water-related changes, then we could have increased risks of diseases, which go beyond those already underlined by the ICA p.5.

“Patterns of threat” by Rivers in Crisis – data

Instances of such risks to biodiversity have been identified, for example, in “Global Threats to Human Water Security and River Biodiversity” (published in Nature in 2010 and with a dedicated website showing, among other, interactive maps of threats). This study finds notably that “80% of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security… while “biodiversity,” is jeopardized, “with habitats associated with 65% of continental discharge classified as moderately to highly threatened.” It shows that technological efforts in richer countries focus on reducing threats to human water security, but do not pay attention to biodiversity.

Thus, most probably, the risks of epidemics are not only higher than emphasised in the ICA, but also present on a much larger territory – including most of the so-called richer world, as shown  in yellow on the map – and could involve a wider range of diseases. Such qualifications of threats cannot be neglected in terms of national security.

This example means that our assessments would be enhanced if we were changing the initial focus of investigation. Security issues related to water usage for humans are only one aspect we must address. We need to consider water even when it is not of direct use to humans, i.e. when it affects biodiversity.

Interestingly, the ICA itself underlines this point – and more – when it judges “that, from now through 2040, improved water management will afford the best solutions for water problems” and explains that efficient water management is the “use of an integrated water resource management framework that assesses the whole ecosystem and then uses technology and infrastructure for efficient water use, flood control, redistribution of water, and preservation of water quality” (p.6).

It would be highly beneficial – if difficult – to start working towards a process allowing us to  also include systematically such integrated approach for threats (and opportunities) assessment.

Integrating the whole water cycle

Second, as far as water is concerned, the Earth is most often considered as a closed system (USGS), i.e. a system that only exchanges energy with its environment.**

If we are in the case of a closed system, this means that the overall amount of water on earth, whatever its form, does not vary. It can neither augment nor diminish but is transformed and transported through the water cycle, as depicted by the USGS picture below, where humans are represented as part of fauna. Animals will take in water from freshwater storage and plants and then return water through evapotranspiration and waste products.

The water cycle shows, even more than the previous point, the need to stop limiting ourselves to freshwater usable by humans. We must, on the contrary, consider all types of water. Indeed, freshwater is obviously heavily dependent upon other types of water, spheres (as in biosphere or hydrosphere) and processes.

Any change either to one component of the cycle, to the flow, or, worst, to the cycle itself – and this at both global and local (ecosystems) levels – has a potential to produce threats to security – or opportunities – to alter timelines for both threats occurrence and response, and to change likelihood. For example, to completely remove anything related to the oceans from water-related threats assessment may create very unfortunate blind spots indeed. As, in terms of national security, this “cycle approach” is already adopted in the case of snow, glaciers and melt-water, including in the ICA, it only needs to be applied systematically.

Considering interactions between cycles

Finally, the water cycle is also linked to two other major cycles, the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

The Carbon Cycle by Wikipedia

The water and carbon cycles are linked, notably through the processes of respiration (living beings). Thus, any change in one cycle has the potential to feed back on the other, creating chain reactions with potential threatening impacts, or, on the contrary, opportunities.

Nitrogen is a vital element of life. As explained by John Arthur Harrison, it is “an essential component of DNA, RNA, and proteins, the building blocks of life” (VisionLearning). Without entering into the details of the complex nitrogen cycle (see for example “The Global Water and Nitrogen Cycles” by the University of Michigan), the water and nitrogen cycles can interact in many ways, for example through atmospheric nitrogen and acid rains, changed water pH, freshwater polluted by excess nitrogen, eutrophication, etc. Again, change to one cycle will affect the other with impact on threats and opportunities assessment.

Parts of the feedbacks between cycles are already considered, for example, through the increasingly reduced availability of safe drinking water, and through various water-related impacts on food security. However, it would be necessary to develop a multi-disciplinary effort that would allow us to truly and exhaustively envision potential feedback effects between cycles aiming at improving threats and opportunities identification and evaluation (including impact, timeline and likelihood).

Water Dolphin by JJ Harrison ( (Own work) GFDL 1.2 or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Grounding systematically global water security and related threats and opportunities assessment  in an approach moving away from restrictive and deceptive anthropocentric usage, focusing on the whole water cycle at both global and local level and integrating feedbacks with other related cycles would yield crucial further insights in terms of likelihood, timeline, impacts as well as nature of threats. It would thus enhance the overall product, as well as pertinence for policy-makers and decision-makers. It would also generate vital improvements in terms of indicators and monitoring, which would need to be organised with outreach, considering the scope of the endeavour. Transition towards such an approach is already underway as many of its elements, besides the more classical national security orientation, are found in the ICA, if we take the “Global Water Security” assessment as representative of anticipatory products for national security. Change needs however to be systematised, for example through building bridges and integration with or similar to such crucial forward–looking multi-disciplinary endeavour as the FuturICT project.***


* The source given by the ICA, “World Bank 2010,” is incomplete and insufficient to trace the data used.

** We should however note that the endogenous and the exogenous (for example “having been delivered by comet impacts – e.g. Morbidelli et al 2000”) appearance of water on Earth seem to be still debated (UCLA IGPP) and that the water system can also be considered as open through exchanges at the level of the atomic constituents of water (hydrogen and oxygen).

*** I heard first about FuturICT through Philip Payet, Afrikasources



FuturICT website. Accessed 27 March 2012.

Gleick, P. H., 1996: “Water resources.” In Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather, ed. by S. H. Schneider, (Oxford University Press, New York, vol. 2).

Harrison, John Arthur, “The Nitrogen Cycle: Of Microbes and Men.” VisionLearning, Accessed 27 March 2012.

Morbidelli A. Chambers J. Junine J.I. Petit J.M. Robert F. Valsecchi G.B. and Cyr K.E. 2000. “Source regions and timescales for the delivery of water to the Earth.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science 35: 1309-1320.

Shiklomanov, Igor “World fresh water resources” in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

Sohn, Emily, “Animal Biodiversity Keeps People Healthy.”  Discovery News, May 19, 2009.

Suzán G, Marcé E, Giermakowski JT, Mills JN, Ceballos G, et al. (2009), “Experimental Evidence for Reduced Rodent Diversity Causing Increased Hantavirus Prevalence.” PLoS ONE 4(5): e5461. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005461.

U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, Global Water Security, 2 February 2012.

UCLA IGPP Center for Astrobiology – NASA Astrobiology Institute;  “Cosmochemistry in an astrophysical context – relating the origin of the Solar System to processes of planet building elsewhere (Hansen, Lyons, McKeegan, Morris, Shuping, Wasson, Young); accesed 27 March 2012.

University of Michigan, “The Global Water and Nitrogen Cycles.” Accessed 27 March 2012.

USGS, Water Science fo Schools, last updated 2012. Accessed 27 March 2012.

Vörösmarty, C. J. et al. “Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity.” Nature 467, 555–561 (30 September 2010) doi:10.1038/nature09440.

Wikipedia, various entries, Accessed 27 March 2012.

Global Water Security: a US Intelligence Community Assessment (pdf)

Global Water Security: a US Intelligence Community Assessment (pdf)

The ODNI has released the unclassified version of the latest US Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security (Feb 2012). Very interesting! For thoughts on the ICA see Building upon the 2012 “Global Water Security” IC Assessment.

Click on the image below to download the ICA in pdf.

Global Water Security

A Strategic Foresight and Warning Issue for National Security

In the light of the 31 january 2012 “Unclassified Statement for the Record on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” by James R. Clapper Director of National Intelligence, which identifies Water Security in the chapter on Significant State and Nonstate Intelligence Threats (p.29), this is an unedited and updated version of a post initially published on The Water Chronicles, December 8, 2011.

The emergence of a global water crisis seems to be a fact that is reaffirmed across actors almost everyday, even if the overall web worldwide traffic devoted to the topic is still marginal compared to terrorism for example, as shown by the two graphs below.

Witness to this double characteristic of importance and relative lack of awareness, the National Geographic, for example, has a whole section devoted to the water crisis or more precisely freshwater crisis to contribute to raise interest: the National Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative.

World Water depletion (2005 data)
World Water depletion (2005 data) – Map Licensed under CC © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).

This global water crisis would spare no country, from the most powerful, as underlined again in the December 4, 2011 Tomgram: William deBuys, The Parching of the West for the U.S. to richer ones such as Singapore, for example, which faces a “lack of natural water resources.” Meanwhile Mapelcroft identifies in 2011 Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as “the most water-stressed countries in the world,” – each ranking respectively in terms of wealth, 3rd, 34th, 1st, 14th, 41st, IMF 2010. Emerging countries are not spared: for example, India faces many water problems from pollution to water depletion, while poorest countries sometimes face further desertification. This wide and unremitting geographic scope also further questions the fading developed-rich/developing-poor countries cognitive model inherited from both the self determination period and the three-worlds Cold War world view, asking from us to revisit our perceptions if we are to understand contemporary challenges and crises and ever hope to solve or more modestly mitigate them.

Meanwhile, various related research programs in universities and think tanks throughout the world have been developed. As indication, references 100 programs, 53 universities and 39 academic journals focused on water. Among others, since 1991 a World Water Week has been organised, initially by the Stockholm Vatten AB, the municipal water and wastewater provider, on behalf of the City of Stockholm (SIWI, history). It led to the creation of the Stockholm International Water Institute in 1997. According to its organisers the World Water Week has become “the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues.”

WEF Global Risk Report 2012
WEF Global Risk Report 2012 – risks by impact and likelihood

Furthermore, water related risks have been identified by the Global Risks Reports of the World Economic Forum (WEF – Davos) under one label or another since 2007. The 2012 Global Risks Report underlines the severity of the water threat, which belongs now to the top 5 risks: water supply crises rank 5th in terms of likelihood, and 2d in terms of impact. An encompassing “water security” had been already singled out in the 2011 Global Risk Report as “the top 10th risk by likelihood and impact combined.” The risk was deemed to be not only very likely but also to have a perceived impact approaching 500 billion USD. Compared with the 2010 perceived impact (then for water scarcity – risk 22 – and not water security) the perceived impact skyrocketed from an estimate of less than 40 billion USD.

Centers of Gravity and Risks interconnection – WEF Global Risk Report 2012

Furthermore, in 2011, the water security risk is seen as interconnected with eight other risks and in 2012 water supply crises are linked to nineteen risks, as shown on the figures realised thanks to the very interesting interactive way the reports are presented online. The water-food-energy risk nexus is amply detailed in the 2011 report and benefits of a specific initiative: Water is on the Agenda of the Global Councils of the WEF since 2008.

WEF Global Risks Report 2011
WEF Global Risks Report 2011

Meanwhile, and as expected from the interconnections shown by the Global Risks Report 2011, water is widely seen as a cause of strife and conflict, as recalled by a recent New York Times blog by Rachel Nuwer, “The power politics of water struggles,” focusing notably on the idea of hydro-hegemony, a framework for analysis of trans-boundary water conflicts, conceptualized by the Canadian Dr Mark Zeitoun of the University of East Anglia. As explained in an article by Zeitoun and Warner, “Hydro-hegemony is hegemony at the river basin level, achieved through water resource control strategies such as resource capture, integration and containment. The strategies are executed through an array of tactics (e.g. coercion-pressure, treaties, knowledge construction, etc.) that are enabled by the exploitation of existing power asymmetries within a weak international institutional context” (2006).

Indeed, the Water and Sustainability Program of the Pacific Institute, in its World Water Conflict Chronology Map presents an exhaustive chronology of 225 water conflicts displayed on an interactive map, showing both their global historical and geographical scope. Conflicts identified in the project start with the c. 3000 BC deluge also told by Sumerian myth, which underlines another potentially crucial dimension of the water issue, its relation to myth, symbolism and the sacred, within a larger cultural dimension as specified on other grounds by Roberto Melville and Claudia Cirelli (2000). The last updated conflict relates to 2010 violent water protests in India thus showing the influence of water on domestic issues, while more conventional disputes with potential for escalation and war are not forgotten, with the example the India-Pakistan Indus dispute (1947-1960s).

We thus have present as elements of this global water crisis: wars and perception of foreign enemies, break down of order and protests, threat to food security, and more generally life, as well as symbolic and customary meaning. Those are nothing else than potential and emergent symptoms that could lead to failure to ensure security, which is the mission of the ruler. Indeed, Moore (1978, 22) “defines the mission of security of authorities as comprising three elements: protection from foreign enemies, foreign being defined by what does not belong to the sphere of the ‘we,’ maintenance of peace and order, and contribution to ‘material security,’ or ‘security against supernatural, natural and human threats to the food supply and other material supports of customary daily life’” (Lavoix, 2010). As we still live, for the great majority, in nation-states, this security is nothing else than national security (conventional security tends to refer to strictly military matters, while unconventional security is being used for any other relevant issue).

To avoid such security failures that would not only have direct dire consequences but also impact in terms of legitimacy, rulers (andmore boradly all actors that could be impacted or are players) have at their disposal a process and analytical tool that helps them anticipating uncertain changes and thus preventing them, mitigating them at best or taking advantage of them when theose changes are opportunities. This process is called Strategic foresight and warning (SF&W). It “is an organized and systematic process to reduce uncertainty regarding the future (Fingar, 2009). It aims to allow policy-makers and decision-makers to take decisions with sufficient lead-time to see those decisions implemented at best (Davis; Grabo 2004; Knight, 2009). It must thus helps us in identifying the frontiers of plausibility within which changes in our surroundings are most likely to take place within a specific period of time, so that we can best coordinate our activities for our society’s security, in the light of those coming alterations” (Lavoix, 2011).



Davis, Jack, “Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable, What Role for Analysis?” Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis, Occasional Papers, Vol.2, Number 1, accessed June 28, 2010.

DeBuys, William, Tomgram: William deBuys, The Parching of the West,, December 4, 2011.

Fingar, Thomas, “Anticipating Opportunities: Using Intelligence to Shape the Future,” and ”Myths, Fears, and Expectations,” Payne Distinguished Lecture Series 2009 Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence and National Security, Lecture 3 & 1, FSI Stanford, CISAC Lecture Series, October 21, 2009 & March 11, 2009, accessed June 28, 2010.

Government of Singapore, PUB Singapore’s National Water Agency.

Grabo, Cynthia M., Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, edited by Jan Goldman, (Lanham MD: University Press of America, May 2004).

Knight, Kenneth, “Focused on foresight: An interview with the U.S.’s national intelligence officer for warning,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2009, accessed June 28, 2010.

Lavoix, Helene, “Enabling Security for the 21st Century: Intelligence & Strategic Foresight and Warning,” RSIS Working Paper No. 207, August 2010.

Lavoix, Helene, Ed. Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown. Singapore: RSIS-CENS, 2011.

Mapelcroft, “Maplecroft index identifies Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as world’s most water stressed countries: Key emerging economies and oil rich nations export water issues to ensure food security through African ‘land grab’,” 25/05/2011.

Melville, Roberto and Cirelli, Claudia, “LA CRISIS DEL AGUA. Sus dimensiones ecológica, cultural y política.” (LA CRISE DE L’EAU. Ses dimensions écologiques, culturelles et politiques), Memoria # 134 en abril del año 2000; further translations.

Moore, Barrington, Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978).

National Geographic, National Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative.

Nuwer, Rachel, “The power politics of water struggles” New York Times blog, 28/11/2011.

Pacific Institute, World Water Conflict Chronology Map

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  • World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2007.
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Wikipedia, “List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita.”

World Mapper, “Water Depletion Map,” Water series, Map 323,

Zeitoun, Mark, and Warner, Jeroen, « Hydro-hegemony – a framework for analysis of trans-boundary water conflicts,» Water Policy Vol 8 No 5 pp 435–460 © IWA Publishing 2006 doi:10.2166/wp.2006.054.